On Moses, Anger and me

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the precious tablets and saw the Golden Calf, he realized something had to be done. Carefully and ever so gently, he handed the tablets over the Joshua, his right-hand man who waited for him patiently and silently at the bottom of the steep climb. He then trotted over to the elders, greeted them all politely, and motioned to Aaron to come have a private moment with him. “Hey Aaron”, said the young brother, “What’s up? I really had a marvelous time up there. The view is mashehu-mashehu, maybe we should take on that peak together someday. How have things been here? I hear there is a party. And I think I saw an idol, well, I don’t want to make any false accusations, but you know me, kinda-of a stickler with the idol issue and don’t know if I’m very comfortable with it. I mean, if that is what it is. Any chance we can schedule a time to talk about it? Pencil us in for lunch next week between the korbanot”?

If this is not the story you remember from the Torah, or Midrashic literature– it’s because it’s not there.

We all know what happened. Moses Came down, saw the calf, smashed the tablets, ground the gold and mixed it in the water which was given to the people. Then there was also a massacre and an intense debate with G-d about whether there should be a Jewish people at all or not.

What if the Torah followed the Golden Calf incident with a Moses who “wants to talk about it” rather than a totally angry, out-there Moses? The calf would be there, but chances are we would not comprehend the weight of the act. Moses’ exhibition of great emotions, in this case great anger, conveys to us that things are serious. It is his reaction that makes us get the severity of what just happened. Had we had a well-measured lecture about the issue, we would have been asleep after the first 5 minutes. If fact, we did receive earlier information in the form of the commandments, but wow, until that very moment, we never thought it was that serious. Only now we really knew.

Yes, I know. the rabbis later wrote that those who succumb to anger are like idolaters, and I get that too, because anytime we lose sight of the fact that what happens to us is G-d given, and “ok” and a blessing, we are suspected of not truly believing and thus, worshiping something else. I get it. But, I also know that the rabbis who said that, lived during the time of the Romans, and getting angry with the Romans around was not pretty and not recommended. Further: I often use the rule (self-made?) that “the commentary teaches us more about the commentator than about the issue”, and therefore, I’m going to take this particular teaching of theirs re anger with a grain of salt, especially since we have quite the emotional bunch throughout the Torah, not only Moses and others, but G-d Himself too.

Which brings me back home.

My recent piece, “40 Plus and Screwed” got various feedbacks, mostly very positive which I appreciate and hope we can develop further (coming up). Some however opted to focus on “the tone”. “She sounds like an angry woman”, wrote someone, “she should have used different words”. I know it was raw, open, crude. But then, would it been heard otherwise?

We are also told in the Talmud that

בשלושה דברים אדם ניכר – בכוסו ובכיסו ובכעסו. ואמרי ליה: אף בשחקו

“A person is recognized in his cup (drinking), pocket (giving) and anger, and some say, in his laughter (playfulness or free time)”. I used to be told that this is about how we behave during these times, how we act when we drink, or when we’re angry. But an explanation I like much better is, that this is about who we are through these 3 (4) things: What do we drink for? What do we spend our money on? What makes us angry? What makes us laugh, or better yet: what do we do with our free time?

The bottom line is, We’re not told to not be angry, just wonder, what is it that gets to us. We’re allowed to have our emotions, which yes, we enjoy the longer we live and the longer we can be who we are, if nothing else because we are created in G-d’s image, and He, thank G-d, had lots of these Himself.

Where is the line, then, between venting, expressing, opening up issues, and between it becoming inappropriate and harmful on one hand, or being feared, stifled and silenced on the other? Obviously, if anyone has been hurt by what I wrote recently, then I haven’t quite figured it out. So I think it’s worth another conversation: can we afford anger? Can we afford being emotional? And then again, can we afford not to?

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